Why the anti-fracking initiatives failed

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Paul Danish

The anti-fracking petition drives did not fail for lack of institutional support from environmental organizations.

According to the Denver Post, the petitioners were backed by the 350.org Action Fund, Colorado People’s Alliance, Food and Water Action Fund, Food and Water Watch and Greenpeace USA.

They did not fail for lack of money. According to the Wall Street Journal, the petitioners raised about $500,000. That was far less than the $13 million the energy industry raised to fight the measures, but it was more than enough to mount successful petition drives — especially on behalf of ballot measures that have attracted a lot of passionate volunteers.

They did not fall short because their message was drowned out by their opponents. Over the past three years, the anti-fracking movement has had no trouble getting its message out; it has probably received more earned media than just about any other environmental cause in Colorado.

They did not fail due to sloppy petitioning. According to Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, more than 70 percent of the signatures on the two anti-fracking petitions were found to be valid, which is high compared to other petition drives. Only 58 percent of the signatures submitted by the successful petition drive for an initiative to raise the minimum wage in Colorado were valid. However the supporters of that initiative turned in 189,000 signatures.

The anti-fracking initiatives turned in 106,626 for Initiative 78 (to ban new oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of an inhabited structure) and 107,232 for Initiative 75 (to give local governments the power to limit or ban oil and gas development in their communities). To get on the 2016 ballot, an initiative’s petition had to have 98,492 valid signatures. The anti-fracking petitions each contained fewer than 10,000 signatures over the minimum required — which means each of them would have had to have had more than 90 percent valid signatures in order to have been approved, a near-impossible hill to climb.

Nor did the anti-fracking initiatives fail because of possible fraud on the part of the signature gatherers. Although the Secretary of State’s office seems to have uncovered one possible instance of a petitioner forging signatures — three of them — there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of systemic fraud.

The anti-fracking initiatives failed to get on the ballot because despite the best efforts of the petitioners, they couldn’t get enough people to sign the petitions — which is a nice way of saying that not very many Coloradans agreed with what they were trying to do.

And why might that have been?

My guess is it was because the case for the initiatives was fundamentally dishonest. The initiatives were portrayed as attempts to ban fracking, a particular industrial process, but their real agenda was to ban oil and natural gas production in Colorado and virtually everyone on both sides of the issue knew it.

Most Coloradans are not in favor of destroying the state’s oil and natural gas industry. They see the economic and social benefits of an industry that in 2012 contributed more than $23 billion to the state’s economy created 93,500 jobs.

It is not that they don’t see the potential environmental costs in terms of pollution and global warming. They think the risks and costs are acceptable and the benefits outweigh them, and the anti-frackers never made a convincing case to the contrary.

Beyond that, the overwhelming majority of Coloradans drive cars and heat their homes with natural gas. It doesn’t take a genius to see that banning oil and gas production is self destructive.
The initiatives’ supporters argued for replacing fossil fuels with non-carbon energy sources like wind and solar, but, most Coloradans intuitively understood that green energy alternatives that cannot be implemented in less than 10 to 20 years are not acceptable alternatives for an immediate ban on oil and gas production — and that it is both intellectually and politically dishonest to suggest they are.

Moreover, the initiative’s supporters didn’t bother to disguise the fact that they were part of a broader movement to destroy the American domestic oil and gas production, period. It didn’t take a genius to understand the consequences of that either — starting with the fact that it would require obtaining petroleum from hostile countries and possibly shedding American blood for oil.

Since 1973, there has been a national consensus on the need for the United States to achieve energy independence, or at least independence in oil and gas production. Government has been spectacularly unsuccessful in achieving that goal, but starting in 2008 the country’s oil and gas companies demonstrated the goal was achievable.

The anti-fracking movement has never spoken to why that goal should be abandoned, much less made a convincing case for abandoning it, but that is the consequence of what it is advocating. Most people intuitively understand that as well.

This opinion column does not reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • Wow. Fundamentally dishonest is spot on.

  • Common Scents

    “This opinion column does not reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.” No, no it does not. But it probably should.

  • ernie_oertle

    I think it would’ve been lovely to see the anti-fracker loonies squeak thru a win w/ these `initiatives’ & thus closed-down the O&G industries here in Colorado. Ninety-three thousand (!!) of their fellow citizens losing their livelihood, not to mention the cold darkness in season & sweltering-heat without air-conditioning. Transportation again a dilemma like in the 19th-century. Horse-&-wagon movement of goods limiting business. Anti-frackers delighted w/ their fantasy negation of Hated profit-commerce, happy w/ their imaginary electric-cars— oh-wait!, there won’t be any electricity because they shut-down the power-plants!! The enviro-fascists theories of how awful fossil-fuels are would certainly have ..initiated.. new revolutionary discussion among the non-ideological rubes — along w/ anti-frackers ginned-up invention “carbon-alternative energies” would have provided a .. non-triggering safe-place. What does MisterDanish call it?.. anti-fracker “intellectual & political dishonesty”. A `watermelon-enviro’ win would set-back ecology just like theBHO presidency has set-back race-relations in America.

    • What’s the plan for when (not if) we exhaust economical fossil fuels, ern?

      • ernie_oertle

        Our alternative – as stated many times by many conservatives-&-libertarians – is for the anti-business cult to shut their yaps & go away, & allow the market to again work which WILL generate opportunity for entrepreneurs which WILL expand the efficiency of traditional energy-provision, will expand safe affordable & clean atomic-energy, & will nurture-along the still-decades-away maturity of alternative-energy — which WILL expand theEconomy which WILL fabricate more flow-thru of wealth which WILL result in more employed-workers & a refreshing of the middle-class — & your objects of your faux-compassion the `poor’ WILL experience an opening to integrity & self-dignity that theZen of doing honest labor creates, & they can command their own health-freedom. And choose their own coverage in a free marketplace.

        • Just like markets cleaned up the air, water, and land that they fouled.

          The facts don’t support your fantasies, ern. Try an ideology with empirical support for a change.

          • ernie_oertle

            Like neo-bolshevist socialistic pipedreaming?

          • Markets are remarkably poor at dealing with environmental problems. You, like so many of your fellow conservatives (and their libertarian adjuncts) have this dream that manmade climate change will magically be solved by markets. Despite the fact that they didn’t fix the air, water and land.

            You’ve departed from the facts, ern.

          • ernie_oertle

            “Facts”? The `Narrative’ is pigrezzivism’s only cohesive. Even the 80 IQers know that a man is not a woman no matter how much `your ilk’ sez he is. Unfortunately for America the keepers of theNarrative are well aware that only force & coercion & blathering about the imagined keep their unreality alive. Fascistic `boot-on-neck’ & crony-corruption regulatory-capture = mmm-m-m much better idea.

          • What market apologists fail to appreciate is that “crony capitalism” *is* capitalism. It’s the genuine real-world practice, not their rationalistic fantasy theory, which has never existed and cannot exist.

            Sorta like Marx’ anarcho-communism. Another ideology completely lacking in factual evidence. That’s why libertarians and Marxists are so tiresomely alike. Pure faith in make-believe nonsense.

          • ernie_oertle

            Trollwind dear, we have a long historical-record of your multitude of sign-ons & your rhetorical-device `false-choice-dodge’. Over the yrs, backed repeatedly into corners by commenters far more skilled than I, you’ve attempted what you are doing here = take both sides! Your make-believe is revealed bad-faith.

          • I’ve never been anything but derecho64 here, since April 2010. Don’t blame me for the BDC deciding to can comments – that was a corporate decision.

            I’m not taking “both sides” – just pointing out that market apologists and Marxists have a lot in common. They both prefer Articles of Faith devoid of fact, and fantasy over reality.

          • The Daily Scamera comment section was a hyper-censored litterbox of festering bigots, lowlife racists and haters of the homeless, like that white-trash redneck scumsack Don Wrege.

            It deserved to be flushed down the toilet.

      • ernie_oertle

        I DO believe `peak oil’ is a concoction. I DO believe the planet IS `conspiring’ w/ petroleum-extractors to continue to make more oil. That the continued growth & advancement of technologies to find these reserves, will coincide w/ the growth & advancement of technologies to mitigate its waste-gases & lessening atmospheric-warming & thus scuttling Trollwind(dewretch064)’s schemes to “de-grow” theWestern Economies, AND, provide a reasoned window-of-opportunity for the technological solving of alternative-energy’s storage-conundrum.
        “If oil is formed from dead-animal & plant-matter, where is the oil that is only `half-created’? In other words, there should be large areas on the earth where millions & millions & millions & millions of barrels of .. partially-formed .. oil are located. To my knowledge, this is not the case.”

        • Abiotic oil is a theory conspicuously lacking in support.

          • had_to_happen

            From an global economic point of view it’s about the most disruptive thing anyone can imagine.

            The Macondo spill was very close to one of the suspected abiotic locations which would mean that if they didn’t get it capped it would have never exhausted itself.

  • Julie G

    So, Mr. Danish. Should we be buying earthquake insurance, just in case? I know fracking is safe and all, since a few little earthquakes never hurt anyone. But it’s a bit alarming that there was a 5.6 magnitude quake today in Oklahoma, where it is widely accepted that the large number of wastewater disposal wells is causing earthquakes. One person was injured. This is not an acceptable risk.

    • Gropple

      I think there are risks involved with fracking, and we do not entirely understand them right now. That being said, banning fracking solely because it might cause minor earthquakes is not a great argument, and hardly a good enough one to justify what these petitions are really doing, which is essentially stealing from people and companies who own mineral rights, and rewarding people who do not. Im all for regulation of fracking, but these petitions and the people who vehemently support them have tunnel vision, without considering both sides.

  • Heidi Swain

    Boulder needs fewer reactive environmentalists and more tactical environmentalist. To see if you are a reactive environmentalist, please take the following quiz:
    1) Did you know wind turbines are manufactured from rare earth material MINED in grossly unregulated places?
    2) Did you know solar panels are considered hazardous waste upon reaching their lifespan so 350 might have to change their slogan “keep em’ OUT of the ground” someday.
    3) Did you know that generally when you rally to stop a pipeline, Warren Buffet swoops in behind you to build up a railroad dynasty?
    4) Does your favorite NGO ever mention free energy devices that have been invented, but black shelved?

    If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you may be an instrument of the hegemony as they divest from fossil fuels, invest in SRIs, only to re-brand their global resource grab under the guise of “environmental stewardship”
    .

  • Heidi Swain

    We need fewer reactive environmentalists and more tactical environmentalist. To see if you are a reactive environmentalist, please take the following quiz:
    1) Did you know wind turbines are manufactured from rare earth material MINED in grossly unregulated places?

    2) Did you know solar panels are considered hazardous waste upon reaching their lifespan, so 350 might have to change their slogan “keep em’ OUT of the ground” someday?

    3) Did you know that, generally, when you rally to stop a pipeline, Warren Buffet swoops in behind you to build up a railroad dynasty?

    4) Does your favorite NGO ever mention free energy devices that have been invented, but black shelved?

    If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you may be an instrument of the hegemony as they divest from fossil fuels and re-brand their global resource grab under the guise of “environmental stewardship”